You would be hard pressed to find a sport that has enjoyed more British successes in recent years than cycling. Britain has produced the last two Tour de France winners in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, and managed 12 medals (8 Gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze) at the London Olympics.
This week’s sporting rockstar, Mark Cavendish, has not gained any of these accolades. But this should not take away from the fact he is one of Britain’s most successful athletes.
Like all sprint cyclists, Cavendish is not interested in winning mountainous stages on Grand Tour competitions, hence why he does not receive the same publicity as his compatriots. As a heavier cyclist, his strength lies in his quads which propel him at the final sprint on the flat stages.
His success as a sprinter is impressive. 25 Tour de France stage wins to date, 11 wins in his first professional season, 3rd in the all-time list of Grand Tour stages victories (43 in total), and the first person to win the final Champs-EÌlyseÌes stage at the Tour de France in four consecutive years. He has also gained points classification in all 3 grand tours (Vuelta a Espana 2010, Tour de France 2011 and the 2013 Giro d’Italia).
Yet he has had some famous setbacks; most memorably in the 2012 London Olympics, where he was favourite to win a medal in the men’s road race which included a support team dubbed “the dream team” of Wiggins, Froome, Stannard and Millar. Unfortunately, having to set the pace for most of the race and with little support, the group were unable to propel Cavendish to victory. He later insinuated that the competitors had deliberately refrained from helping an overly-successful British team. Famously, when asked by a BBC reporter whether his failure to win a medal may have been due to tiredness, Cavendish stormed off in anger asking whether the reporter knew anything about cycling.
Indeed, Cavendish is no stranger to controversy. He has never been afraid to speak his mind (his twitter page contains the disclaimer “may cause offence”). One of his more expressive moments came in 2010 at the Tour de Romandie, where he gave a two fingered salute to his critics upon crossing the finish line who apparently “knew jack shit about cycling”. He is also not afraid to take it out on his teammates. He refused to speak with Bradley Wiggins after failing to win in the Maddison at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as he felt that Wiggins had not performed to the best of his ability. His ego, and involvement in a few controversial crashes, has not always made him popular with fans, one of whom expressed his anger in the 2013 Tour de France by throwing a bottle of urine at him.
However, in spite of the odd incident, one cannot help but feel Cavendish is winning in life. He has a young family with former model Peta Todd and has received national acclaim, winning sports personality of the year 2011 and was given an MBE for his services to cycling. Without doubt his colour- ful character and continued success will keep him at the top of British cycling for the foreseeable future.